For years, organizations have sought to obtain insights from Big Data. But it takes a lot of time to collate and correlate massive volumes of information in this manner, particularly given the velocity at which they’re being collected. By the time valuable insights are derived, the opportunity to do anything about them may have passed. That’s why we’re starting to see companies – especially retailers – embrace technology solutions that can extract and distribute “small actionable data” naturally within a workflow, all the way to the operational edge.
The rapid expansion of omnichannel offerings demands strategic business planning and agile problem solving. And the current rate of fulfillment requires extreme coordination between stores and supply chain partners. Associates also need real-time guidance on the next best step to take, whether unpacking new inventory in the back of the store, restocking shelves, picking items or delivering orders. Yet, these things are only possible if retailers can see, analyze and – most importantly – act on what’s happening across their operations right now.
It’s fantastic that so many retailers are investing in technology to increase operational visibility. Radio frequency identification (RFID), Bluetooth® sensors, and intelligent automation will likely become table stakes for those who want to sustain on-demand omnichannel models in a post-COVID world. However, the only way you are actually going to get a return on investment (ROI) for all the data being sensed and analyzed by these technologies is if you actually do something with it.
Closing the “Sense-Analyze-Act” Loop: The Back-End System Changes That Benefit Front-Line Workers (and Your Business) the Most
Retail store associates have told us loud and clear that the most frustrating part of their jobs is either not knowing how to complete certain tasks or how to complete them efficiently.
Some may find this interesting considering the increased use of mobile devices in retail stores. In fact, the majority of retail executives, associates and customers surveyed for Zebra’s latest Global Shopper Study boast that “mobile devices make all the difference” – and we know they do. Associates equipped with handheld computers or tablets can more easily look up prices, help find products and answer customer questions. However, devices alone don’t make it easier to proactively manage shelf inventory, improve merchandising or anticipate customers’ needs. It’s the software running both on the back end and front lines that make the devices so powerful and valuable.
For example, a prescriptive analytics solution can aggregate all the data collected via edge mobile devices, scanners, intelligent automation, cameras, RFID systems and more and then process it using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to answer every question you may have about:
- what is happening.
- why it happened.
- how much it is costing you.
- what to do about it.
- who should do it.
Together with a real-time task management application, it can then push small actionable data to the right associates’ mobile devices so they know exactly how to fix or mitigate an issue before it escalates. More importantly, these software tools can send step-by-step directions in a clear, simple and timely way that doesn’t distract associates from providing exceptional service to customers who may be standing right in front of them asking for help. This, in turn, helps both the store and shoppers achieve desired outcomes.
How Software is Lifting the Spirits of Store Associates and Shoppers
Removing the ambiguity from tasks also helps to boost employee productivity and morale, which has become a top priority for retailers in the past year and will likely remain so for years to come.
In Volume 2 of Zebra’s 2021 Global Shopper Study, retail executives confirmed that they will be investing more in their people in the next few years in the form of workforce management solutions and other technologies that improve the employee experience. In fact, 81% plan to increase their spend on prescriptive analytics to help increase the value of each associate action – and the value of the associate overall.
This is a somewhat significant shift from early 2020 when Internet of Things (IoT) was all the rage. Even though such technologies are still garnering sizeable investments – albeit driven now by contactless shopping and smart checkout – the events of the past year have led organizations to realize just how vital their people are to their success. Even in the most challenging circumstances, today’s workers are driven to keep customers happy. In fact, they are disappointed and frustrated when they can’t meet expectations. So, it makes sense that software investments are now taking precedence. Retail executive, associates and shoppers don’t see eye to eye on everything, but they do agree on one thing: tech-enabled associates provide better experiences.
Mobility solutions, when combined with the right software, visibility and automation solutions, enable people and machines to communicate data more effectively and naturally. This improves real-time decision making and ensures the proper execution of all tasks at the edge of retail operations which, in turn, allows front-line teams to take a more proactive stance against out-of-stocks, pricing errors and other issues that could trigger customer complaints. In short, software is what retailers need to focus on right now if they hope to give associates and customers exactly what they want: a better omnichannel experience.